NCOC Featured Discussion

Who Took Civility Out of Politics?

May 1, 2012

Full video of the “Keynote Panel on Civility and Political Discourse” convened by NCoC and the Bipartisan Policy Center at the 66th Annual National Conference on Citizenship in September 2011.

Democracy fundamentally entails controversy and, as is often said, reasonable people may disagree about social issues and policymaking. But recently, many question if civility has left politics all together and impassioned partisanship has become the norm.

At the 66th Annual National Conference on Citizenship, NCoC and the Bipartisanship Policy Center convened a panel on Civility and Political Discourse . The panel brought together former Senator Robert Bennett (R–UT); Aaron Brown, PBS (formerly CNN and ABC); Sally Rider, National Institute for Civic Discourse; Ted Simons, KAET–TV's HORIZON; and Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D–AZ 15). They engaged in a frank discussion about the rise of political incivility, the qualities of successful civic leadership, historical bipartisan accomplishments, and the solutions needed to improve a political environment widely seen as beset by gridlock.

While participants agreed that today's political discourse lacked civility, they struggled to identify why civility left the conversation and how to bring it back.

Senator Kyrsten Sinema argued that politicians are no longer rewarded for finding compromise but are instead rewarded through the media with airtime for outrageous comments and fierce speeches. Airtime is a large incentive for politicians on the campaign trail and in search of funds. Former Senator Robert Bennett admitted that a common critique of his failed re–election campaign was that he was not passionate enough—his constituents never saw him screaming on TV.

Members of the media, Aaron Brown and Ted Simons, pushed back on this idea, arguing that the media operates as a business and is responding to its consumers. More people watch shouting politicians than they do thoughtful and meaningful debates.

These arguments invite critical questions. Are Americans voting for the politicians they want as policymakers or as entertainers? Do constituents need to demand more of their elected representatives and the media?

How do we fix this?
Senator Sinema spoke in favor of a system of rewards for leaders who find a way to reach across the aisle, form alliances, and create solutions. Sally Rider believed that data from empirical research, currently underway, could convince politicians that it is in their interest to move towards thoughtful dialogue.

Image drawn for this discussion series by Alice Murphy Who kicked civility out of politics – was it the media, politicians, or the public that they both answer to? We explore these questions in further depth via the discussion series below. Weigh in and let us know what you think.

Should Bipartisanship Be Incentivized?
The Role of Media in Politics: Information or Entertainment?
What do the People Really Want? Thoughtful Debate or Boxing Match?
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1 Comment
By Alexandra at 8:19 PM on Apr 3rd, 2013
Hats off to woheevr wrote this up and posted it.
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